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A Match Made in America: Carhartt and Baseball

By Dave J. Moore, Brand Archivist and Historian

Here at Carhartt, we’ve always been known for our heavy-duty, no-nonsense workwear. Whether it’s the denim first introduced by founder Hamilton Carhartt in 1889 or the brown duck that is now synonymous with the brand, we’ve been building darn near indestructible products for almost 130 years. As the company was heading toward its 100th anniversary in the 1980s, Carhartt had a thought – what if we took the same rugged qualities, the same durability, the same focus on consumers’ needs, and developed a line of casual wear? Would our customers still turn to us for products that were designed for lighter-duty and off-the-job wear? Would offerings that played on contemporary trends find a place in their closets? We were determined to find out.

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Our first adventure into the casual world certainly had staying power. In 1982, Carhartt introduced its first sweatshirt. It wasn’t your typical hoodie, though – with a cotton poly blend outer shell, interlining made of polyurethane foam, and inner lining of flocked nylon, it certainly upped the warmth factor in a characteristically Carhartt way. It wasn’t long before this sweatshirt style was given its own custom moniker, CAR-LUX. Today, we offer about 25 different styles of sweatshirts.

enlarge image Carhartt sweatshirt offerings, 1983
Carhartt sweatshirt offerings, 1983

As Carhartt moved into the 1990s, we focused our efforts on first layer offerings, cementing a place for T-shirts in the product line. A simple yet durable offering, the pocket T-shirt – known today as the K87 – would prove to become a Carhartt legend (make sure to check out my previous article on the K87 here). The pocket T-shirt was accompanied by our first graphic T-shirt, emblazoned with the company’s slogan at the time, “Rugged as the men who wear them.” Since then, you’d be hard pressed to find a Carhartt logo, slogan, or motto that didn’t appear on one of our T-shirts.

enlarge image Screen Printed Front T-Shirt, 1992
Screen Printed Front T-Shirt, 1992

The ‘90s were also a great example of Carhartt’s new contemporary, casual styles. One way Carhartt kept it casual was by making garments with worn-in looks, capitalizing on different washes that were popular at the time. Many new products and classic garments were offered in acid-washed, antique-washed, bleach-washed, and/or stonewashed versions.

enlarge image Blue Denim Acid Washed Work Shirt, circa 1992
Blue Denim Acid Washed Work Shirt, circa 1992

Our experimentation with ‘90s style trends didn’t stop with different washes, though. Some of the most eclectic Carhartt garments ever made were part of our Southwestern Wear line. It was only produced for four years (’91 to ‘95), but remains popular with vintage clothing enthusiasts even today. Some products were loud…

enlarge image  Multi Canvas Microloft Lined Aztec Jacket, 1994
Multi Canvas Microloft Lined Aztec Jacket, 1994

And some were more conservative, adding Southwestern accents to classic Carhartt looks.

enlarge image Quilted Flannel-Lined Southwestern Style Jacket, 1992
Quilted Flannel-Lined Southwestern Style Jacket, 1992

Carhartt CEO Mark Valade elaborated on our willingness to experiment with new ideas: “There were other western wear manufacturers at that time that produced these products, but our then sales manager – who was also our product developer – knew the jacket style could be a market for us as our western consumers already knew the brand… meaning we had credibility in the western wear market. Carhartt was a smaller company at the time, and we found new markets through trial and error.”

Around that same time, in 1992, Carhartt made its first micro-sanded products. There were several reasons behind the development of what would come to be known as our Sandstone Duck – essentially, it was an effort to provide the same feel as a garment made out of our classic firm-hand duck after extensive washing. The initial thought was that these products would appeal to our classic consumer for off-the-job wear, and potentially draw in younger customers. In the end, our firm-hand duck and Sandstone Duck each came to occupy one side of the Carhartt coin – the Sandstone Duck was popular from the get-go, but we found that many were still wearing it on the job. It was simply a matter of personal preference. To break it in yourself or not break it in yourself, that was the question. Over 25 years later, the Sandstone Duck line has grown to almost 20 different garments.

enlarge image Sandstone Duck products, Fall 1997
Sandstone Duck products, Fall 1997

These are just a few examples of how Carhartt was able to evolve from a work uniform into a 24/7 uniform for our hardworking and hard-playing consumers. We are constantly studying, learning, and experimenting, just like Hamilton started doing all the way back in 1889. Whether you’re swinging a sledgehammer at some concrete or doing a few 12-ounce curls at a tailgate party, we’ve got your back.